Coleman v. Miller, 307 U.S. 433; 59 S. Ct. 972; 83 L. Ed. 1385 (1939)

Coleman v. Miller, 307 U.S. 433; 59 S. Ct. 972; 83 L. Ed. 1385 (1939)

Facts—In June 1924 Congress proposed the Child Labor Amendment. In January 1925 the legislature of Kansas adopted a resolution rejecting the proposed amendment, and sent a certified copy to the secretary of state of the United States. In January 1937 a resolution was introduced in the senate of Kansas ratifying the proposed amendment. There were forty senators, twenty in favor, and twenty rejecting it. The lieutenant governor, who presided over the Senate, cast his vote in favor of the resolution, which a majority of the members of the House of Representatives later adopted. Opponents challenged the right of the lieutenant governor to cast the deciding vote. They also challenged the vitality of the amendment, stating that a reasonable amount of time for ratification had elapsed.


(a) Can a state whose legislature has formally rejected a federal amendment later ratify it?

(b) Do proposed amendments die of old age, if they remain before the states for too long a time?


(a) The question of ratification in the light of previous rejection, or attempted withdrawal, should be regarded as a political question, with ultimate authority for its decision residing in Congress.

(b) Congress, likewise, has the final say in the determination of whether or not an amendment has lost its vitality before the required ratifications.

ReasonsC.J. Hughes (7–2). The Court upheld, without considering the merits, the decision of the state supreme court that the lieutenant governor had the authority to break the tie.

Article V of the Constitution says nothing of rejection, but only of ratification. The power to ratify is conferred upon a state by the Constitution and persists even if previously rejected.

The political departments of the government dealt with previous rejection and attempted withdrawal in the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment. Both were considered ineffectual in the presence of an actual ratification. This is a political question pertaining to the political departments, with final authority for the matter in the hands of Congress.

An amendment is not open for ratification for all time, since amendments are prompted by necessity. However, if Congress does not set a limit, as it did in the Eighteenth Amendment, the Court may not decide what constitutes a reasonable time. No criteria for a judicial determination of any kind of time limit exist in the Constitution.

Congress has the power under Article V to fix a reasonable time limit. If the time is not fixed in advance, it is open for determination at the time of promulgating the adoption of the amendment. This decision of Congress would not be subject to review by the Court. These questions are essentially political and are not justiciable.

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